Who is Buying This Stuff?

Andrew Sullivan asks Jim Manzi a few questions, and Manzi responds:

To me this is just incredibly profligate.  It’s like the justification for the Iraq War (in this way):  “trust us, it will pay for itself or close to it, we have to do it or face disaster, and we have to do it RIGHT NOW, stop raising all of these bothersome questions”. We are a wealthy country, but not so wealthy that we can literally burn more than a trillion dollars decade after decade on something that can demonstrate no appreciable benefits.

Sure, it’s just like the Iraq War. Decades of science using data freely available to all and leading to a series of rigorous, skeptical, peer-reviewed analyses suggesting that action should be taken culminating in a legislative process that has spanned several years is exactly like the rushed, abbreviated, stove-piped false intelligence fueled push to attack Iraq. Manzi is a smart guy, but this is perhaps the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen him write. Moreover, he’s simply wrong. Decadal defense spending, for instance, is something like $4 trillion. I’d guess that perhaps half of that is pure waste or unnecessary spending. And we’ve been spending like this for decades.

And I’ll reiterate again that a) the costs of the legislation are likely overstated, b) Manzi is assuming that there will be no ancillary benefits to the legislation, and c) Manzi is assuming that after this legislation is passed there is no change in global warming policy in America thereafter, ever, for the next century. I don’t have a problem with people using Manzi’s analysis as a datapoint to consider in determining how they feel about Waxman-Markey, but you’d have to check your common sense at the door to buy his interpretation of it. You’d have to assume that the uncertain costs of an unprecedented climatic shift are likely to be no big deal and well within our ability to handle, while the rather mundane use of government policy to trim a bit off of consumption in an effort to prevent us from killing hundreds of millions of people is bound to be totally debilitating.


  1. Flip says:

    Apparently, the U.S. Senate is not buying this stuff. I understand Waxman-Markey is “Dead-on-arrival.”

  2. thingsbreak says:

    Ask Manzi how credible he thinks Nordhaus’s DICE model is. His NRO piece called it “canonical”. I’d be interested to hear why Manzi thinks it’s at all reasonable to only assign a 50% loss to GDP for 19°C warming. The insanity of that should be self-evident. See Stern’s presentation at the Copenhagen climate congress for more: http://climatecongress.ku.dk/webcasts/#plen20090312

    [h/t to tidal]

  3. Doug says:

    I remember in the 80s there was some talk about climate change and Reagan raised the same objections, which were fairer then than they are now. There are arguments I do buy against W-M, but the one I don’t is the one that says the proponents have to convince everyone before we can proceed, or else we’re stifling dissent. The Senate might want to improve or weaken the bill, but there’s no need to convince anyone who isn’t yet convinced.

  4. Karl Smith says:

    “it’s at all reasonable to only assign a 50% loss to GDP for 19°C warming. The insanity of that should be self-evident.”

    I don’t know if its self-evident. You would have to detail it. 50% loss of World GDP is a big deal.

    If this is a gradual process, say over 100 years or more, and there is any part of the earth that is still habitable 50% loss is a lot.

    It would be hard to loose 50% of GDP without killing a lot of Westerners. Even if the entire infrastructure of the world had to be rebuilt in a new location, it could be done for less than a 50% loss.

  5. thingsbreak says:


    Fisheries and agriculture on a scale necessary to preserve civilization would be impossible under less than 19°C warming even spread over centennial timescales. Around 3.5°C (easily achievable by end of century even with some mitigation) and you’re talking about extinction rates of 40-70%. Permanent desertification of the American Southwest by mid-century. Global desertification would increase from 1% to 30% and loss of all inland glaciaers (and the drinking water they supply) by end of century even under a moderately high (i.e. well below what we’re on track for absent action) emissions scenario. It’s difficult to talk about effects beyond 5°C because warming beyond that simply isn’t modeled much because no one thinks we’d be crazy enough to subject ourselves to it. You’d see meter+ SLR by end of century before even crossing the 10°C threshold. The problem is that assumptions like Nordhaus’s are little more than quadratic fits through what they think the costs are now through projected costs of 2°C. This simply doesn’t capture the massive global changes associated with warming on the 5-6°C scale (the same amount of change as interglacial to glacial maxima at a much faster rate), much less beyond. We’re talking about forcing the climate into a state not seen for 30-50 million years in a century or two merely by discussing a quarter of 19°C warming. Talking about GDP under 19°C warming is a non sequitur.

    This is something that scientists and a growing number of economists understand. It is something ignored by Manzi, Nordhaus, CATO, NRO, et al.